Based on the principle that body and mind are interrelated, dance/movement psychotherapy is defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional and physical integration of the individual." In dance therapy the movement qualities and anatomical, postural structure of an individual's body are regarded as a reflection of emotional expression. Each individual's nonverbal movement style becomes the fundamental communicative tool. The actual tempo, rhythm and spatial orientation of the movement actions enhance the spoken dialogue. Becoming attentive to the qualities of a person's nonverbal cues provides a window into that person's experience, expression and development of their sense of self. These qualities include the rhythm, tempo, muscular tension, spatial pathway and amount of strength used to perform the movement sequence. Each individual's personal movement style is made up of a unique organization of these qualities.
One of the key therapeutic techniques in the field of dance/movement psychotherapy is observing the expression of the body's movement qualities. By focusing on the essences of the body in motion, we can listen to its tune, gaining insight into how that individual organizes their experience of the world. Originally, this field developed from dancers' own experiences with using the power and the universality of dance to communicate. The drive to know oneself and to express the deepest feeling of self through the body by using dance and movement is primal, enabling the mover to cross the barrier of language. Experience is another element key to dance therapy technique. The dance therapist aims to help individuals use their bodies through dance and movement to express their experiences of relating, to and developing within, their surroundings. The postural qualities of a person's movements reflect the mover's sense of self on an interpersonal level. The way that the mover interacts with their environment is observable in how the mover then moves within that body posturing through the spatial environment.
During intervention, the therapist looks at the individual within this context of expression of self (body movement) in relationship to interaction with others (space). The dance therapist looks to see how the individual has coordinated all aspects of self - motoric, sensorial, verbal, emotional, cognitive - to communicate with and to interact with the surroundings. These observations are crucial even if the movement pattern that the person displays is not synergistic or efficient for that person's total functioning, or if it is influenced by an organic developmental difficulty.
Through movement interactions based on stimulating, exploring and expanding these observable patterns, new experiences in relating become possible. The improvisational atmosphere of each session supports the participant's free expressions while encouraging more social relatedness. As each person begins to experience their movements as a rich source, facilitating self expression, and social engagement, they also learns how to regulate their sensory system through body awareness supporting development in all areas. The knowledge a dance therapist brings from the understanding of the universally expressive qualities of movement provides crucial access to a person's body and mind. Understanding the expressive quality of movement, when combined with other traditional forms of treatment has been the greatest facilitator for change and therapeutic intervention.